How to Teach Writing with Lemony Snicket

“All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” ― Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket knows just how important reading is. Daniel Handler, the author behind the pseudonym/character of Lemony Snicket, is known widely for his novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. He has also written several picture books for children under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. These include The Dark, Goldfish Ghost, The Bad Mood and the Stick, and The Lump of Coal.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket regularly breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader, using a rare second-person point of view. Lemony Snicket is seen as an additional character and narrator created by Daniel Handler. Snicket explains complex vocabulary, foreshadows events, tells the reader about himself, and directly interacts with the audience based on the story. This is what Lemony Snicket is known for. 

No wonder students and teachers alike enjoy his books. His unique way of writing, coupled with his dynamic and eccentric stories, make for a powerful combination in children’s literature.

Mentor Text is a book or literary work that serves as an example of writing for students to emulate. A mentor text is writing that is studied for author’s craft, word choice, and other skills to help students learn how to effectively write. 

Lemony Snicket is a wonderful author to utilize for mentor text in the classroom. 

Point of View

His books are the perfect examples of teaching point of view, particularly the rare second-person point of view. 

Although A Series of Unfortunate Events can be seen as a third-person omniscient point of view as all the characters’ feelings and thoughts are explained, it is also second-person as Lemony Snicket talks to the reader directly. By speaking to the reader, students gain a clearer view, explanations, and another perspective, all within the same book. 

For example: “It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” -The Bad Beginning

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.” – The Bad Beginning

“I don’t know if you know this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” -The Bad Beginning

“For instance, if you are a bank robber – although I hope you aren’t – you might go to the bank a few days before you planned to rob it.” -The Bad Beginning 

Students can see how Lemony Snicket uses a second-person point of view in an interesting and unique way, and they can incorporate this into their writing. 

Word Choice

Word choice is an important part of writing. The words we choose as writers make our stories interesting and dynamic, drawing in the reader. Lemony Snicket has a very unique word choice. His word choice is often a mixture of sarcasm, humor, and enlightenment. Snicket, or Handler, is an effective writer utilizing precise language to portray the story. Students will become inspired to write in their own individualistic way.

Here are some wonderful word choice examples:

“The book was long, and difficult to read, and Klaus became more and more tired as the night wore on. Occasionally his eyes would close. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.” -The Bad Beginning 

“If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.” -The Wide Window

Figurative Language

Writers use figurative language to help readers better understand what is being described in a relatable way. Figurative language, from similes to metaphors, from onomatopoeia to personification, is utilized as a type of word choice that helps bring the reader deeper into the story. Lemony Snicket has a penchant for unique figurative language. 

Here are some examples of similes: 

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” -The Slippery Slope

“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.” -The Grim Grotto

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.” -The Beatrice Letters

“A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.” – Horseradish

Lemony Snicket loves to use another type of figurative language: personification.

For example: “This is my knife. It is very sharp and very eager to hurt you.” – The Reptile Room

In fact, he wrote a whole picture book on the concept. The Dark is about a young boy scared of…you guessed it…the dark. Dark is personified throughout this book and even speaks to the main character.

Dark is also a cute picture book to read around Halloween for upper elementary to middle school students. We have a whole unit on it, with emphasis on teaching personification among other skills, for grades 4-7. Check it out now! 

We also have figurative language posters that my be helpful to you. Check it out here!

Grab yours today!

Mood

Writers use word choice to create a mood. The mood is how a reader feels while encountering a book. It is the emotional response that writers try to get readers to elicit through specific word choices.

Lemony Snicket is outstanding at this, especially in A Series of Unfortunate Events. As he uses a second-person point of view, he sets certain moods for the reader. One of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen to evoke the mood of deep sadness is as follows: 

“The way sadness works is one of the strange riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.” -The Bad Beginning

Students can read Lemony Snicket or Handler’s books cover to cover to truly understand how his word choice effectively creates mood, but even well-picked quotes can show students how to evoke a mood in their own writing. 

Conclusion

As a teacher, I have used A Series of Unfortunate Events as read-aloud books, one after the other. We would pause and discuss the author’s craft of Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler. By utilizing his writing and focusing on specific quotes, students can see isolated examples of precise skills they can use in their own writing. One of my favorite college professors always said, “The more a student reads, the better writer they will be.” I highly recommend that students read Lemony Snicket’s novels and picture books to be inspired to create their own unique and wonderful writing.